Vegan Sunflower-Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

In recent years, Omaha has become a premier dining destination thanks to restaurants like The Grey Plume, The Boiler Room and cocktail haunts like The Berry & Rye and Grane.

Pumpkin Muffins

What may surprise is that it’s also home to famous vegan chef, Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen fame. The former Brooklynite is the author of many celebrated vegan tomes, including Vegan with a Vengeance, Veganomicon and Appetite for Reduction. She moved to Omaha in 2010 and opened the city’s first vegan restaurant, Modern Love, in 2014.

Vegan Muffin Collage

I’ve been craving pumpkin ever since the leaves started to turn and the temperatures began to dip. Though I’m definitely not a vegan, I do turn to Isa when I’m looking for recipes that are both healthy and delicious—like these vegan pumpkin muffins.

You won’t find any strange ingredients here. Infused with classic holiday spices like spicy cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves, the muffins are the sheer epitome of fall. Non-dairy almond milk, applesauce and canola oil provide a moist, tender crumb that’s surprising in a vegan muffin. The final touches are molasses for a rich, caramelized flavor and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds.

Pumpkin Muffins

Non-vegan confession time: these muffins are absolutely delicious with butter. But if that’s not your thing, try them topped with apple butter, your favorite jam or jelly, or Earth Balance. Enjoy!

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies with Fleur de Sel

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The first time I seasoned a main dish with salt and pepper it was a revelation. The flavors popped on my tongue and familiar foods tasted more vivid. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus here (ahem, Mom), but I grew up in a household that largely avoided salt. Due to health reasons and the rhetoric of the medical community in the low sodium dark ages, my parents didn’t use salt unless a recipe specified it. Those were the days of bland boneless skinless chicken breasts and pork chops cooked until gray to kill the trichinosis.

The art of seasoning felt like transitioning from black and white to Technicolor. It’s no surprise that I’ve been known to hit the salt cellar a bit too hard. I meticulously taste my food for seasoning, often adding just a bit more than necessary.

Over the years we’ve experimented with a variety of salts of every shade and flavor nuance: Grey Sea Salt, Black Lava, Pink Himalayan, Hawaiian Red, even Espresso. These salts shine on simple crostini gilded with olive oil or on crisp green lettuces with bracing vinegars. They’re also delicious on desserts.

One of my favorite salts, perfect for those just beginning their explorations, is fleur de sel, or “flower of salt.” The delicate, moist flakes are hand-harvested from salt ponds. Due to their moisture content, they retain their crystalline structure atop moist foods, adding a delicate crunch of texture. Fleur de sel perfect as a finishing salt and should be sprinkled on food just before serving.

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On a particularly glum day this fall, I decided that sweet, salty and buttery chocolate cookies would be the perfect pick me up. Enter Brown Butter Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies with Fleur de Sel.

Brown butter adds new depth to a comforting favorite. And who can say no to dark chocolate chunks and toasted pecans? A delicate dusting of fleur de sel adds crunch, shimmer and just a hint of salty tang.

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BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burgers with Creamy Cabbage-Radish Slaw

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Nearly every summer, M goes abroad, and every time he leaves, I swear I’ll become a new woman. I tell myself I’ll eat more veggies, exercise more, read more books and drink less alcohol. But after a day or two of cooking for one, my firm resolve crumbles. The rest of the time M’s gone, you’ll often find me eating leftover takeout pizza and counting down the days until he returns.

Except for this time, of course. And that’s where my chickpea burgers come into play. Already swapping my beloved beef for legumes, I didn’t want to sacrifice more than I had to, so I settled on a BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burger.

I sautéed red onions, mushrooms, garlic, and red bell pepper until soft, and then mixed the vegetables with mashed chickpeas, Panko, egg white and a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. Hungarian wax peppers, fresh thyme and parsley from our front yard garden added a touch of spice and herbaceousness.

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After an hour of chilling in fridge, I browned the patties in olive oil on the stove over medium heat, and then finished in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes. The final embellishments included gooey, melted sharp cheddar, even more barbecue sauce, and a crunchy, mustardy cabbage and radish slaw. The result? A tangy, spicy and cheesy veg burger that didn’t make me miss my takeout pizza at all. (Well, only a little bit.)

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Feel free to dress this simple chickpea burger up however you like by adding your own favorite veggies and herbs. Try corn, cilantro and jalapeño for a Southwestern burger, or ginger, sweet potato, curry and cumin for an Indian-spiced burger.

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I can’t claim this burger has made me a better person, but it is a tasty and healthy change from the greasy pizza I usually order.

The Bottle Chronicles: Certified Cicerone to Sustainable Brewmaster

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Lincoln’s Matt Stinchfield has been brewing beer for more than 18 years. As Nebraska’s first certified cicerone (a designation for those with significant knowledge and professional skills in beer sales and service), he’s also been judging beer for the last nine. Matt’s beer career is about to come full circle when he opens his own brewery, Ploughshare Brewing Company.

Matt’s beers are carefully constructed. He approaches beer making with the heart and soul of an artist, carefully mixing his palette of hops, herbs and water to create futuristic infusions built on classic European styles. Lincoln’s unique terroir makes the city an excellent place to brew beer, he said.

“Our water is already like Edinburgh’s, Munich’s and the abbeys of Belgium. The mineral content is analogous to those areas. That’s a great place to start,” Matt said.

Ploughshare will brew seven styles in its regular rotation: Robbers Pils (a pre-Prohibition pilsner), Weathervane (a Belgian-style witbier), Tailgate Red (an Irish red ale), Buckboard Bitter (an extra special bitter dry-hopped with English hops), Pecheron (an American-style IPA), Farm Boy (a cream ale) and Smithy (an oatmeal stout). The brewery will also feature several seasonal beers—including Bumper Crop, a 100% organic Belgian-style saison this September.

“We’re trying to make a beer [that] when you close your eyes, if you’ve been to Bavaria or been to Prague, you go, ‘That’s it,’” Matt said.

While some American microbreweries may cut corners for efficiency or savings, Ploughshare focuses on brewing the old-fashioned way. Matt commissioned custom-made brewing equipment from Canada. The new equipment will be capable of processing raw wheat, the traditional method of brewing wheat beer, for Ploughshare’s popular Weathervane. Though the new brewing equipment will take more than eight months to build, Matt is still looking forward to opening the full-scale taproom in April.

Located at 1630 P Street in Lincoln, Ploughshare will feature a small, seasonally driven menu, designed by chef de cuisine Scott Burkle. A former Lincoln Secret Supper chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Hollywood, Scott spent the last 14 years cooking up fresh, California-inspired cuisine. Matt describes Ploughshare’s menu as “rustic hearty,” with nary a fried food in sight, as the kitchen won’t be equipped with a fryer. He hopes to include a rotating menu of modern comfort food, refined with the addition of fresh, locally sourced meat and produce, including lasagna, bratwurst, salads and housemade condiments.

To enhance its rustic atmosphere, Ploughshare’s decor will feature reclaimed barn wood, and there will be no TVs in sight.

Ploughshare plans to open in April. Find out more at PloughshareBrewing.com or on Facebook.

This story was originally published in the Spring 2014 edition of Edible Omaha.

The Bottle Chronicles: A Visit to Sonoma’s Joseph Phelps

Italian physicist and philosopher Galileo once proclaimed, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” There’s no place that quote rings truer than in California Wine Country.

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In late April, M’s parents flew to Lincoln from Cologne, Germany for a five week visit. In addition to spending time at Abelhaus in Lincoln, they love to travel around the U.S. every time they have a chance to visit.

On this trip, M and his parents spent 10 days driving down the Pacific coast from Portland to San Francisco. I was able to join them for the final five days. They picked me up in San Francisco and we drove north, spending a night in Napa and a few nights in Healdsburg, before heading back to Fog City.

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In the span of three days, we sampled close to 50 different wines, but the most memorable tastes we enjoyed at our visit to Sonoma County’s Joseph Phelps. We’ve been Joseph Phelps wine club members since our first visit to the vineyard back in 2007. And with wine club membership comes rock star treatment.

On a mild, cloud day that hinted of rain, we were seated on the terrace at a private tasting table to sample eight of Joseph Phelps’ award-winning wines. We began with the whites—chardonnay and sauvignon blanc—before moving to their signature pinot noirs and cabs, including the famed Insignia.

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Insignia is Joseph Phelps’ flagship wine, and a vintage of the Bordeaux-style blend is comprised of the vineyard’s best grapes. Insignia is recognized as one of the world’s greatest wines, and it’s certainly the best I’ve ever tasted. The 2002 vintage was named the “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator in 2005 and 2013. Rock star critic Robert Parker has awarded three perfect 100 point scores to the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages. Here’s a video of Robert Parker discussing the Insignia legacy.

We began by sampling the 2005 Insignia, a blend of 92 percent cab, 7 percent petit verdot and 1 percent merlot. The inky wine featured notes of anise, black cherry and minerals, with supple tannins and a long finish.

Next up was the 2006 Insignia, a blend of 95 percent cab and 5 percent petit verdot. The 2006 growing season began slow with wet, cool spring temps. A 10-day heat wave in July caused early ripening, and the result was a nearly opaque wine with flavors of black fruit, cocoa, minerals, coffee and cola, balanced by smooth tannins and a long, lovely finish. The good news? M bought a bottle to commemorate the year we met. The bad news? We won’t be drinking it until at least 2016.

The 2006 was supposed to be our last taste at Phelps—until they asked if we wanted to try a barrel sample of the 2012 vintage. We told them no, of course.

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Just kidding! The 2012 vintage was still aging in the barrel and won’t be bottled and released until 2015. Like the other vintages we sampled, it was smooth, supple and well-balanced. We loved it so much we bought three bottles “en primeur” or as futures, which we plan to lovingly cellar for years to come.

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Low and slow roast duck with crispy skin

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My 2013 started off with a bang—a multi-course European feast at the acclaimed Zur Tant restaurant in Koeln, German—complete with midnight fireworks and champagne. The past year was filled with many culinary milestones: farm-to-table cuisine at some of Nebraska’s finest restaurants, elk and buffalo in the Rocky Mountains, oysters on the half shell (in Nebraska!), and homemade pasta.

The year culminated with a feast at Daniel in New York City in November, where M and I spent more than three hours enjoying the seven-course tasting menu. I’ll detail that evening in a future blog post.

The start of a new year brings new opportunities for culinary adventure, and I couldn’t think of a better place to start than duck. It’s become an anniversary tradition for M and I, and I often cook duck confit in honor of our wedding anniversary in October.

This time around, I wanted to try something new: roast duck. After M and I became engaged in December 2007, we were treated to a celebratory dinner of roast duck wrapped in pancetta by our friends Anthony and Becca. My adventure with roast duck was inspired by that dinner, as well as by the Christmas duck cooked up by our friends Jeannette and Alex.

Duck collage

I started with a whole young duckling. After defrosting, I scored and pricked the skin, then rubbed it with a dry brine, a mixture of grated orange rind, fresh sage and rosemary, kosher salt and pepper. The salt helps pull moisture from the skin, while seasoning and adding flavor to the meat.

I spent hours researching the proper cooking methods. It seems that nearly every chef and cooking site has its own technique for properly roasting duck. In the end, I chose a low and slow cooking method, hoping the longer cooking time at a lower temperature would yield the juiciest meat combined with the crispiest skin.

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I drizzled olive oil over the skin, trussed the duck, stuffed the cavity with fresh orange slices, parsley and garlic, and set it to roast at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Every hour, on the hour, I flipped the duck and pricked the skin to encourage the rich, unctuous fat to cook off.

After four hours, the duck was done, so I cranked the heat to broil to get a bit of additional color and crispiness on the skin. Meanwhile, Sous Chef (and haus carb chef) M was busy frying thin slices of potato in the rendered duck fat.

We served the duck alongside the unctuous, duck fat potatoes and a crisp green salad dressed with vinaigrette of olive oil, mustard and champagne vinegar.  2014, you’re not looking too shabby.

Roast duck plate

Summer Vegetable Chicken Soup

There’s nothing more comforting than homemade soup. I usually wait until the weather cools before getting out my soup pot, but several recent life changes and the start of a new school year (my first year as an adjunct!) have left me frazzled. This weekend seemed like the perfect time to whip up a batch of Summer Vegetable Chicken Soup.

Chicken Soup

We love to spatchcock and then grill or roast whole chickens, so I often have a bag of chicken parts in my freezer. After a few months of bone collecting, I make a giant pot of chicken stock to freeze and use in recipes and soups.

I started my homemade chicken soup by making a simple broth. I combined chopped celery, sweet onion, carrots and garlic with a bouquet garni of fresh thyme, parsley and black peppercorns. My secret tip: place your fresh herbs and peppercorns in a coffee filter and tie with kitchen twine, then submerge straight into the pot. This makes cleanup much easier than just dumping the herbs straight in.

Chicken Soup Collage

I let the broth simmer gently for about 75 minutes. Though 60-75 minutes works in a pinch, if you have more time, simmer for 2-3 hours. At the 60 minute mark, I added two boneless and skinless chicken breasts and poached them gently until cooked through, about 15 minutes. I strained the broth and then began my soup.

Summer Vegetable Chicken Soup is bursting with fresh vegetables and garden herbs. I sautéed garlic along with chopped fresh oregano, and then added locally-grown sweet corn, red bell pepper and zucchini. I finished the soup with my homemade stock, tomato sauce, brown rice, chicken and sweet basil.

Summer Chicken Vegetable Sopu

I packed up the soup in a couple of mason jars, added a store-bought baguette and homemade chocolate chip cookies, and delivered it to some of our friends who are also experiencing some major life changes. I hope the soup brought a touch of warmth and comfort into their lives.

The Bottle Chronicles: Gin Sling

Is it time to start celebrating yet? Tomorrow I’ll be receiving my master of arts in integrated media communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In honor of my graduation, and the fact that tomorrow’s Friday, I’m pleased to announce the return of The Bottle Chronicles.

The Bottle Chronicles was a bi-monthly column on beer, wine and liquor that I wrote for the now-defunct Star City Blog. I explored the Nebraska wine scene, interviewed local brewmasters, and shared my favorite cocktail recipes.

So raise your glass—in honor of my graduation, the return of The Bottle Chronicles, Friday, or whatever you want to celebrate—and let’s explore the classic gin sling.

Classic Gin Sling

A refreshing mix of fruit juice (usually lemon), sugar, and ice, the origins of the gin sling are a little contested. A 2007 article in the The Mixologist places it as far back as 1790, when it was simply gin that was sweetened and served cold. Later recipes also included grated nutmeg.

A popular drink for more than 100 years, the sling was reimagined in 1915 with the invention of the Singapore sling at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The drink’s creator, Ngiam Tong Boon, combined gin and cherry brandy with orange, pineapple and lime juices, a combination that continues to entice even today.

But for today’s drink, we’re staying old school. Feel free to swap orange or lime juice in for the lemon, or combine all three for a citrus sling. With just three ingredients, the gin sling will be your perfect spring or summer sip when you’re tired of the same old gin and tonic. Enjoy!

Blackened Chicken Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

It’s been a lousy spring so far in Nebraska—and this week is a classic example. On Sunday and Monday, it was hot and sunny, with temperatures in the upper 80s. I even got a mild sunburn on my weekend long run.

Nebraska Weather Meme

Tuesday was cloudy and a little cooler, but today through Saturday are looking utterly bleak. Right now it’s raining, sleeting and snowing. And the forecast for the rest of the week isn’t much better—temperatures in the upper 30s-40s with a chance of rain and snow.

Ugh. But this is Nebraska—and Nebraskans are known to persevere, so M and I took advantage of the last day of nice weather on Tuesday and cooked up an utterly delicious and (mostly) healthy blackened chicken salad.

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Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, this salad combines crisp green leaf lettuce with juicy grape tomatoes, radishes, red onion, cucumber, spicy pepperjack cheese, mango and avocado with a creamy avocado-cilantro dressing spiked with lime juice and garlic.

If you’re a cilantrophobe like my father, try substituting parsley or chives.

Salad Dressing

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Salad

Paired with a lightly blackened chicken breast and a side of tortilla chips, this was the perfect late spring salad. When summer (finally) rolls around, I look forward to making it with fresh vegetables from our raised bed garden.

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Dark Chocolate-Infused Hirschgulasch (Venison Stew)

One day last fall, in the middle of the workweek, my cell phone rang.

“Hello?” I said, tentatively.

“It took me longer than I expected, but I found you a source,” he said.

We exchanged details of the hows, whats and whens, and I hung up the phone, ecstatic.

If it sounds illicit, it should—at least a little. And if I sound a bit like an addict—that’s not too far from the truth.

When my dad called to tell me he’d found a supply of venison, I was overjoyed.

I’ve been obsessed with venison for quite a while now, and I eat it every time I see it on a menu. Venison chili, yes please. Venison burgers, why not? Venison tenderloin, absolutely!

I’ve eaten it at rustic Nebraskan restaurants in the middle of the Sandhills, and even the night I got engaged, at the impressive Tribeca Grill in Manhattan.

The venison my dad procured was a large roast, lean and the vivid red of a garnet. For such a prize gem, I could think of only one respectable recipe—a rich and savory German-style Venison Stew.

I consulted the Internet, pored over my German cookbooks, called up a German cooking expert (my MIL) and finally settled on a modernized version of the classic.

This recipe combines traditional flavors—red wine and juniper—with modern flourishes—coriander, ginger and balsamic vinegar. At the last minute, bittersweet chocolate is melted into the sauce for a rich flavor that complements the gaminess of the venison.

We served it to our favorite German-food-loving friends over homemade spätzle (that’s another blog post) alongside a crisp lamb’s lettuce salad. For dessert, my husband made a German classic, Dr. Oetker’s Chocolate Chip Cake. Hope you love this recipe as much as we did!